Sunrises, spectacular scenery and surprise visitors



This blog post is written by 2nd year PhD student Ros Nicholls, who is based in the Geography Department at the University of Leicester. Here she tells us a bit about her PhD fieldwork in Israel.


I am writing this at the end of another long day of fieldwork in Israel, having got up at 4:45am in order to beat the sunrise. I am coming to the end of a two and a half week reconnaissance visit to the Negev Desert which has allowed me to test out my research methods before returning for a data collection period. This trip has taught me lots of things about fieldwork in a sunny destination, namely that you have to start really early if you want any chance at collecting good photography-based data sets because the sun creates too many shadows… something that has not been an issue with my UK fieldwork!

Spot the drone on an early morning flight. One of the perks of getting up so early was seeing spectacular sunrises!

For my research, I will be collecting data from rivers in the UK and also collecting a contrasting data set in the Negev Desert, Israel. The Great British weather means our rivers flow all year round and very rarely dry up. Some areas of the UK receive as much as 2000mm of rainfall each year. In contrast, rivers in the Negev Desert are completely different to ours. Ein Gedi, which is a town on the shore of the Dead Sea has an average annual rainfall of 107mm. Aviemore in Scotland typically receives more than that in January alone! The arid climate means that rivers in the Negev are dry for the majority of the year. Such rivers are termed ephemeral, which means short lived; they flow four or five times each year, and only for a few hours each time. Field work in these two environments will provide me with a diverse data set which will allow me to predict the different forces which are required to move a particle based on its size, shape and position on the river bed.

UK vs Israel
Photos of one of my UK study sites, and one of my Israeli sites.

One of the great things about working in the Negev Desert is the spectacular scenery. It’s so unlike anything that you find in the UK that I’ve spent the whole trip quite awestruck. People always say do what you love and you’ll feel like you’ve never worked a day. I have certainly felt like I’ve been on holiday at times, but the aches and pains associated with fieldwork remind me that I have actually been doing lots of hard work! The heat also makes working in Israel quite challenging – some days I’ve been drinking 6 litres of water while out in the field, and you can feel your head burning if you don’t have a hat on! We tend to take a bit of time off in the midday heat, and find a bit of shade to rest in and cool off… though it can be quite tricky to find shade in a desert!

Zin Valley
The valley through which part of the Zin River flows
Dead Sea
Looking over the Dead Sea, watching the sunset after a hard day of fieldwork is a memory I’ll hold with me for a lifetime

For much of the time, fieldwork in Israel is very quiet. In the UK, I pick my sites based on having good access, so there’s often people passing by, sometimes stopping to ask me what I’m up to. The Negev Desert has lots of 4×4 routes taking you off the beaten track, so the places we go to are very remote. Many of these 4×4 tracks are along river beds. Driving up rivers took a bit of getting used to as it’s just something you wouldn’t really be able to do at home, and there would always be the nagging fear that it might rain and you’d get stuck! Some days, we wouldn’t see another person until we headed back to the main road at the end of the day. Occasionally a couple of goats or some sheep which have strayed from a nearby Bedouin settlement might come and say hello. If you’re lucky like me though, a herd of camels might come strolling by. It would have been rude not to stop my fieldwork and take a picture really, wouldn’t it?!


As well as working on my PhD research, I have also been involved in the setting up of a novel field experiment which is being managed by the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Our study river, the Nahal Yatir, has a series of alternating structures on its bed, known as bars and flats; the bars are dominated by gravel and the flats sand. The aim of the research project is to better understand the development of these structures. We spent a few days surveying the channel to determine its characteristics. Then today, we effectively reset the system by mixing up the river bed using a digger. This has made the channel homogeneous and removed evidence of any structures on the river bed. The channel in our study area is now effectively uniform.

Mixing collage

The channel will be resurveyed after each flood event (about 6 are expected this winter) and the development of structures on the river bed monitored. As the channel is dry between flood events, the whole reach can easily be surveyed in detail. This will allow very small changes to be detected, and our understanding of the development of bedforms enhanced. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a rainy winter season in the Negev Desert this year so we have an exciting data set to look at!







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